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Menachem Ussishkin

1863 - 1941.

Menachem Ussishkin. Source: Widener Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Menachem Ussishkin was a Zionist leader born in Belarus.

Starting in 1878, he developed a passion for reading contemporary Hebrew writers. This sparked his commitment to promoting the revival of the Hebrew language, which became a fundamental principle for him.

During his life, Menachem Ussiskin:

  • Was the head of the Hovevei Zion movement in Moscow,

  • Active in Zionist Congresses,

  • Was against the Uganda plan adoption,

  • Founded various Zionist institutions (BILU),

  • Was the head of the Jewish National Fund from 1923 to his death, through which he arranged significant land purchases.

When Ahad Ha-Am founded the Bnei Moshe Society in 1889, Ussishkin became one of its active members. Under this association's influence, during the Second Zionist Congress in 1898, the principle decision was made to hold cultural and educational activities in a national spirit in the Land of Israel and the diaspora.

In 1891, Ussishkin visited the Land of Israel for the first time. He documented his experience in a booklet originally written in Russian and later translated into Hebrew. This publication had a significant impact on readers.

Despite his concerns about a Zionist movement based solely on political action without emphasis on cultural and settlement work, Ussishkin was deeply affected by Theodor Herzl's publication "Der Judenstaat". His encounters with Herzl and Max Nordau in Paris and Vienna before the First Zionist Congress were also impactful. He was chosen as the Hebrew secretary for the 1897 Congress.

His opposition to pure political Zionism at the First Congress precluded his election as the leader of Russian Zionism. However, at the Second Congress (1898) he was elected to the Zionist General Council and served on it for the rest of his life.

In 1919, Menachem Ussishkin left Russia permanently and came to the Land of Israel with his family. He chose to live in Jerusalem and built a house in Rehavia – on the street that bears his name today.

From 1919 to 1923, Ussishkin provided guidance to the Yishuv during their initial and challenging efforts to establish a national home. He played a crucial role in setting up a Hebrew school network and founding Kiryat Anavim, a settlement near Jerusalem.

In 1921, Ussishkin traveled to the United States with Albert Einstein to support Keren Hayesod's fundraising campaign. However, at the 13th Congress in August 1923, Ussishkin's appointment as chairman of the Zionist General Council was blocked. This was due to his disagreement with Weizmann's moderate approach towards the regime established in Mandatory Palestine.

Nonetheless, he was appointed head of the Jewish National Fund (JNF - KKL) and held the position for almost two decades, from 1923 to 1941. He focused all his energy on the idea of acquiring land as the nation's property and traveled to Europe (1924) and Canada (1927) to raise funds. His arduous work led to the purchase of significant tracts of land in Emek Israel (1921), Emek Hefer (1927), Haifa Bay area (1928), Beth-Shean (1930), and other parts of the country.

Under his leadership, the JNF's land holdings grew from 22,000 to 561,000 dunam, and its income increased from £70,000 to £600,000.

For 60 years no Zionist or Jewish national activity took place in which he had not participated and on which he had not left his unique stamp.



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